The Important Stuff

In order to be a good outside receiver in the NFL on a consistent basis, you need to be able to get off the line and into your routes – and then separate using route running without having to rely on an athletic advantage that quite often won’t exist. Leaving the ability to get off the line to one side for a second, Smith does do some nice things as a route runner.

One of the most impressive things he shows is the ability to make sharp high-speed cuts, especially given his size, such as on this next play where he initially heads to the flat before breaking back inside, even if the throw was slightly off:


And on this crossing route – where he initially sets up outside before making a sharp cut across the face of the defender for an easy reception:


He also does some nice things on slower developing routes, where the head of his route is at the feet of the defender and he is tasked with getting the defender to commit the wrong way before breaking the other way to generate separation. On both of the following plays, the defender starts inside with his body turned outside to allow him to break on an outside route; what Smith does well is get the defender to flatten his feet, squaring their body and making themselves vulnerable to the eventual outside breaks:


However, there are enough mediocre or poor routes on tape from Smith to create some hesitancy regarding his potential as a route runner. The most common issue was the way he sometimes rounded off routes rather than making a sharp break, thereby giving the defender more time to recover:


This is hardly unusual for a college receiver, and Smith is far from alone in doing this in the 2019 draft class, but this is something that could be an issue in the NFL – teams should see his route running as promising rather than a finished product.

The other concern with Smith is his ability to get off the line, as while he did show some ability to do this at times, this was something he also had some real struggles with. First, here is a an example of what he can do, using an initial outside step to create space for him to step vertically and into his route without impedance:


This is what forces the safety help over the top and the quarterback should really have used this double team to find a numbers advantage elsewhere rather than trying to force the ball past the safety. However, when faced with more physical press coverage, Smith’s hand usage was shown to be lacking, allowing the cornerback to completely disrupt the flow of his route:


As can be seen from the fact that all the press clips are against Alabama, this isn’t something that Smith faced a lot in college, and some of his issues could be down to inexperience, but regardless, this is something that will have to be improved upon if he is to succeed on the outside in the NFL. He did show the vaguest ideas of how he might be better at times, such as this feigned inside move followed by the break outside:


But the inside break needs to be far more committed with a full step before the break outside in order to give the corner time to fully turn his hips before having to react to the outside break.

There is certainly significant room for growth for Smith in terms of route running and release off the line, but there are reasons to be optimistic as he does show a surprising change of direction – especially at speed – for a man of his size as well as flashes of more subtle route running moves. This is something that any team significantly interested in Smith would likely want to probe further with individual workouts, but from what can be seen on tape there are certainly reasons to be optimistic in this regard.


Up Next: The Added Extras


Vincent Richardson on Twitter
Vincent Richardson
Managing Editor at Riot Report
Fan of zone coverage, knee bend and running backs running routes. Twitter: @vrichardson444